THE effects of large gatherings over Eid as well as multiple home visits will be apparent in the days to come and will largely depend on how far people complied with the SOPs. Only recently, as the virus ravaged India, and even now continues to bring unimaginable suffering there, officials in Islamabad warned we could be in a similar situation if precautions were not taken. The variant across the border, B.1.617.2., spread rapidly just as India was proclaiming it had beaten Covid-19 — a terrible fallacy that had lulled many into a false sense of security. This misguided belief, propagated by India’s top officials, was a major factor behind the mass gatherings and indifference to precautions — a trend that was witnessed in Pakistan some months ago when compliance fatigue and huge political and private gatherings were in full swing.
Pakistan cannot afford to be complacent. Our healthcare infrastructure and medical manpower do not have the resources to cater to a high volume of critically ill Covid-19 patients. We have already lost over 200 doctors and at least 30 paramedics — an alarming figure given that Pakistan’s overall recorded infections at each peak were far lower than badly hit countries like the UK, where nearly as many healthcare workers have died. The high number of medical personnel deaths in Pakistan reveal the gaps in our healthcare system. With a new study showing multiple virus strains in Punjab, there is even more reason for concern. Given our lack of healthcare resources, the government’s focus must be on ramping up testing, SOP compliance and vaccine coverage. Mask-wearing, social distancing and limited gatherings, too, are key to keeping infections low. Superspreaders like the Kumbh Mela in India have been linked to the crippling third wave of infections. Even when Pakistan emerges from the third wave, it should ensure that gatherings are restricted and mask-wearing is compulsory. Above all, the government must make all-out efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated. As vaccine supplies come in, a mass awareness campaign should begin. This is essential, as the return to any kind of ‘normalcy’ is underpinned by mass immunisation. While the government is doing a good job of managing vaccination centres, the real challenge lies in persuading reluctant members of the public to get the jab. An awareness campaign that educates people on the dangers of contracting the virus and the protection the vaccine offers will encourage reluctant citizens to get themselves inoculated.
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2021